Kevin Cash - will he succeed or crash?

To say the Blue Jays will have some decisions to make when it comes to their catching situation in the next few years is an understatement – at least if Kevin Cash has anything to say about it. Considered a defensive specialist, Cash expects to surprise some people with his bat this year. And if he can do so, the "catcher of the future" may just be the catcher of the present.

Once touted as the future of the organization behind the plate, with the emergence of Guillermo Quiroz, it sometimes seems as if Kevin Cash has lost his job before he even got it. In 2003 Kevin split the year between Syracuse and Toronto, appearing in 34 games behind the plate for the big league club. The Tampa, Florida native committed a grand total of one error in 278 innings with the Blue Jays last year. In Syracuse, his defense was at the stellar level people in the organization have come to expect from him, despite playing 1B and 3B during his college career at Florida State before the Blue Jays signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1999. Unfortunately, however, there is a downside to Cash's game right now. His offensive production has been almost completely non-existent to date at the major league level.

His career major league average is an abysmal .142. While his total of only 120 At Bats is not a huge sample size, this is not impressive, to say the least. Unless something drastic happens between now and April, Kevin will be sharing catching duties with Greg Myers. This is Kevin's year to showcase he belongs in the Majors, especially with the afore mentioned and heavily touted prospect Guillermo Quiroz knocking on the Jays doorstep. Cash does possess some potential when it comes to the hitting side of things. His career average in all levels of the minor leagues was a steady .262. His best season came in 2001 with Dunedin, where he hit .283 in 105 games, drove in 66 runs and knocked out a surprising 12 home runs. Last season he hit .270 with the SkyChiefs, including a career high 10 game hit streak during which he hit .371 (13-35).

Kevin's number one strength is very easy to pick. His game-calling skills are unparallel, especially for a 26 year old catcher without a full year of Major League experience under his belt. Roy Halladay was quoted last year saying Cash is his, "favourite catcher to play with right now," high praise coming from last year's American League Cy Young winner. The poise he shows is unprecedented for his age.

Since the game of baseball relies so heavily on statistics to determine how valuable a player's production is to his team, I will pull out the most convincing stat I can find that proves Kevin's defense is a huge asset to the Blue Jays club. In his 41 Major League games, 17 base runners have attempted to steal. Cash has gunned down 7. His arm strongly resembles a cannon, as Kevin is a threat to even the best base runners in baseball. During his minor league career, Cash has thrown out 159 of 313 would be base stealers, a top notch 50.7% His ability to control the running game will be a huge benefit for any of the Jays' young arms who see time in the majors this season, as they will have enough to worry about on the mound.

Spring training will have to be a strong few weeks for Kevin if he wants to completely lock his position on the club for this season. If Cash continues to struggle at the plate, the Jays brass may be forced to play their cards early, and look for help elsewhere, or rush Quiroz into the Majors. Surely Kevin wants nothing to do with either scenario. Given JP Ricciardi's patient approach with his young players, there is no reason to expect anything so drastic. But at the same time, Greg Myers' aging frame will need rest, and there is only so long one can tolerate a sub .200 hitting player in the lineup of a team that expects to win 90 games. Last year in spring training, Kevin hit .273 in 11 At Bats, driving in four runs. He'll need another performance like that to really turn heads this year. We've all seen the glove and the arm. It is time to see the bat from Kevin. If he does show it, people will notice quickly.

There will be a lot of eyes squarely on Kevin Cash this season. Will his bat continue to cause head-shaking around the Jays clubhouse, or can he provide enough offensive production that the team simply can't ignore his defense? Expecting him to become an offensive force is a bit much to ask, but the outlook here is that he will pleasantly surprise with the bat this year, and become reliable and competent, if not stellar, with the bat in his hands. Only time will tell, but one thing's for sure. This season will be Kevin's chance to show the Jays he is a "money" catcher.

Stefan@JaysTalk.com

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